Drug Therapy

Status Report From the American Acne & Rosacea Society on Medical Management of Acne in Adult Women, Part 3: Oral Therapies

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Combination oral contraceptives are not ideal for all adult women with AV. Absolute contraindications are pregnancy and history of thromboembolic, cardiac, or hepatic disease; in women aged 35 years and older who smoke, relative contraindications include hypertension, diabetes, migraines, breastfeeding, and current breast or liver cancer.33 In adult women with AV who have relative contra-indications but are likely to benefit from the use of a COC when other options are limited or not viable, consultation with a gynecologist is prudent. Other than rifamycin antibiotics (eg, rifampin) and griseofulvin, there is no definitive evidence that oral antibiotics (eg, tetracycline) or oral antifungal agents reduce the contraceptive efficacy of COCs, although cautions remain in print within some approved package inserts.8


Available since 1957, spironolactone is an oral aldos-terone antagonist and potassium-sparing diuretic used to treat hypertension and congestive heart failure.9 Recognition of its antiandrogenic effects led to its use in dermatology to treat certain dermatologic disorders in women (eg, hirsutism, alopecia, AV).1,4,5,9,10 Spironolactone is not approved for AV by the FDA; therefore, available data from multiple independent studies and retrospective analyses that have been collectively reviewed support its efficacy when used as both monotherapy or in combination with other agents in adult women with AV, especially those with a U-shaped pattern and/or late-onset AV.9,40-43

Mechanism of Action

Spironolactone inhibits sebaceous gland activity through peripheral androgen receptor blockade, inhibition of 5α-reductase, decrease in androgen production, and increase in sex hormone–binding globulin.9,10,40

Therapeutic Benefits

Good to excellent improvement of AV in women, many of whom are postadolescent, has ranged from 66% to 100% in published reports9,40-43; however, inclusion and exclusion criteria, dosing regimens, and concomitant therapies were not usually controlled. Spironolactone has been used to treat AV in adult women as monotherapy or in combination with topical agents, oral antibiotics, and COCs.9,40-42 Additionally, dose-ranging studies have not been completed with spironolactone for AV.9,40 The suggested dose range is 50 mg to 200 mg daily; however, it usually is best to start at 50 mg daily and increase to 100 mg daily if clinical response is not adequate after 2 to 3 months. The gastrointestinal (GI) absorption of spironolactone is increased when ingested with a high-fat meal.9,10

Once effective control of AV is achieved, it is optimal to use the lowest dose needed to continue reasonable suppression of new AV lesions. There is no defined end point for spironolactone use in AV, with or without concurrent PCOS, as many adult women usually continue treatment with low-dose therapy because they experience marked flaring shortly after the drug is stopped.9

Risks and Contraindications

Side effects associated with spironolactone are dose related and include increased diuresis, migraines, menstrual irregularities, breast tenderness, gynecomastia, fatigue, and dizziness.9,10,40-44 Side effects (particularly menstrual irregularities and breast tenderness) are more common at doses higher than 100 mg daily, especially when used as monotherapy without concurrent use of a COC.9,40

Spironolactone-associated hyperkalemia is most clinically relevant in patients on higher doses (eg, 100–200 mg daily), in those with renal impairment and/or congestive heart failure, and when used concurrently with certain other medications. In any patient on spironolactone, the risk of clinically relevant hyperkalemia may be increased by coingestion of potassium supplements, potassium-based salt substitutes, potassium-sparing diuretics (eg, amiloride, triamterene); aldosterone antagonists and angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (eg, lisinopril, benazepril); angiotensin II receptor blockers (eg, losartan, valsartan); and tri-methoprim (with or without sulfamethoxazole).8,9,40,45 Spironolactone may also increase serum levels of lithium or digoxin.9,40,45,46 For management of AV, it is best that spironolactone be avoided in patients taking any of these medications.9

In healthy adult women with AV who are not on medications or supplements that interact adversely with spironolactone, there is no definitive recommendation regarding monitoring of serum potassium levels during treatment with spironolactone, and it has been suggested that monitoring serum potassium levels in this subgroup is not necessary.47 However, each clinician is advised to choose whether or not they wish to obtain baseline and/or periodic serum potassium levels when prescribing spironolactone for AV based on their degree of comfort and the patient’s history. Baseline and periodic blood testing to evaluate serum electrolytes and renal function are reasonable, especially as adult women with AV are usually treated with spironolactone over a prolonged period of time.9

The FDA black box warning for spironolactone states that it is tumorigenic in chronic toxicity studies in rats and refers to exposures 25- to 100-fold higher than those administered to humans.9,48 Although continued vigilance is warranted, evaluation of large populations of women treated with spironolactone do not suggest an association with increased risk of breast cancer.49,50

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